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TRIPLE DIGIT TEMPS & HYBRIDS DON’T MIX: 2020 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER HYBRID

The demand for a large three-row crossover hybrid is about as long as the line at the DMV right now – hence in a market full of family driven urbanite motorized strollers, there is only one manufacturer that focuses on fuel sipping hybrid technology in a crossover with as many seats as a school bus. Seeing how the tables at Toyota have turned with the RAV4 Hybrid and Prius actually being quite a good vehicle to drive, we have high hopes for the completely re-engineered Highlander Hybrid.

Before you quickly scroll to that comment section to inform us that the Highlander Hybrid isn’t the only three-row hybrid crossover in town, the Ford Explorer Hybrid isn’t quite in the same playing field. Engineered for performance, its twin-turbocharged hybrid powerplant only has one set of numbers in mind and it’s its 0-60 time frame. The Highlander on the other hand was re-engineered from the ground up with fuel-consumption hybrid technology in mind. An added bonus, the Highlander Hybrid is also available in all the same trim levels as the standard V-6 starting with the LE at $38,625.

Without the badging and blue highlighted Toyota logos, there are virtually no significant differences between the hybrid and non-hybrid Highlanders. Even our top trimmed Platinum’s 20-inch wheels are identical to the V-6 Platinum we tested not too long back.

For the first time in the history of Toyota’s crossover hybrid game, they are offering the Highlander Hybrid in a front-wheel drive version as a standard feature. All-wheel drive is available at a $1400 premium on models. However, like most hybrid systems, the all-wheel drive is a non-conventional system where the rear wheels aren’t connected to the engine at all. With the front wheels being powered by a gas and electric motor, the rear wheels are strictly driven by a separate source of electricity. This allows the Highlander to be mostly front-wheel drive until the demand for its all-wheel system to step in during abrupt acceleration or unsavory road conditions.

When Toyota announced the drop of the V-6 hybrid power plant, it was a sad day indeed – the once top performing Highlander succumbs to a new found form of technology through a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Now that the new powertrain isn’t as powerful as the previous generation with a combined 243-horsepower, it is now much more fuel efficient, allegedly. Perhaps testing in Arizona during our triple digit temperature summer wasn’t ideal for proper MPG readings as the outcome wasn’t exactly what we were hoping…

Striking the old Highlander ways, performance is a bit more down with 0-60 being achieved in a smooth 8.0-seconds. The hybrid system uses a continuous variable transmission to maintain performance distribution and as the needle climbs higher into the power limit, so does the dreary sounds of the four-cylinder whine.  As temporarily as it can be, the Highlander can put itself into EV mode at speeds upwards of 75 mph and for traveling under 20-mph, there is a button to manually engaged electric mode. However, at a moment of throttle application, all EV hope is lost.

As our sampler was equipped with the optional all-wheel drive, our EPA rating was hopeful with 34-mpg on the highway and 35-mpg combined. Unfortunately, due to Phoenix and its unfathomable temperatures, the three-zone air-conditioning remained at a comfy 70-degrees – which in return, ultimately demanded power from the engine. Our end results came out to 31-mpg during out 200-mile highway test and 30-mpgs combined – missing the target by 5-mpg’s. A unique piece to this hybrid puzzle however is something that we, as automotive journalist wouldn’t see and it is the hybrids new GPS tracing system. This system learns your daily route and routines and should automatically prep the system to provide the maximum fuel efficiency scenario.

Tapping into the 50-grand territory, our Platinum Hybrid was in no shortage of premium feel. The interior was wrapped in a tasteful orange leather with the dash carrying an array of finishes from sleek metal to piano black and gloss wood treatments. The upgraded 12.3-inch touch screen infotainment system is ultra-clear with a high-definition display and features a fully customizable application that is easy to use. Carried over, Toyota’s speak easy system also has been rejuvenated with a more stadium like output allowing the driver to converse with the third row passengers more sternly.  

Considering our last test on the previous-generation Highlander Hybrid that averaged 28-mpgs, the new Highlander has stepped up its fuel efficient game. While ours may not have reached the intended EPA rating or the optimistic 600-miles to a single tank, we’re going to blame most of its short comings on Arizona’s extensive heat. Maybe we’ll try again next year when the temperatures are a little more vacation-like.

VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS

Model: 2020 TOYOTA HIGHLANDER HYBRID
Trim: PLATINUM
Base Price: $38,200
Starting Trim Price: $50,200
As Tested: $52,512
Color: RUBY FLARE PEARL

PERFORMANCE SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 2.5-LITER FOUR-CYLINDER AND ELECTRIC MOTOR
Horsepower/Torque: 243-COMBINED HORSEPOWER / — LB-FT TORQUE
Transmission: ELECTRONIC CONTINUOUS VARIABLE TRANSMISSION (E-CVT)
Drivetrain: ALL-WHEEL DRIVE
Fuel Economy: EPA RATED: 35-CITY / 34-HWY / 35-COMBINED
AS TESTED: 29.9-MPG COMBINED / 31.2-MPG HIGHWAY (200 MILE TEST)
Fuel Range: 400 MILES
0-60 MPH: ±8.0 SECONDS

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